(A table of contents is available. It will be kept updated throughout the series, and I will reblog it upon completion of the series. This series will remain open for additional posts.)
Part 18: Beyond the Physical
Metaphysical began as a term to describe poetry in the 17th century–poets like John Donne, George Herbert, Andrew Marvell, and Henry Vaughn, whose works questioned several things including the existence of God, fate vs free-will, the particulars of consciousness and perception. The prefix “meta” means after, so metaphysical means, essentially, “after the physical.” Really, this genre dwells on the existential crises of the world.
What makes a metaphysical story?
As literature evolved and progressed, metaphysical became not just a label for poetry, but also for fiction and non-fiction essays. The philosophical is a big characteristic for metaphysical literature, in fact, it’s part of the definition when perusing through a dictionary. What that really means in terms of literature is that the story deals much with the supernatural and transcendental nature of human life. It’s about giving voice to things that can’t necessarily be measured or their existence even proved, such as the soul. Metaphysical literature is highly intellectual and dives deep in to question the unquestionable. It portrays events and experiences that can’t be objectively measured, explained, or proved, but are subjectively experienced or sensed.
Metaphysical fiction shares many traits with visionary fiction, which is another small genre. The difference between these is the very spiritual nature of visionary fiction. While metaphysical fiction can touch on religious themes, visionary fiction tends to feature it more prominently. Visionary fiction is also most prominently defined by its use of ancient wisdom. These two terms, because of their similarities, often are used interchangeably. Metaphysical fiction can also seem to fall in the religious fiction genres, though metaphysical doesn’t tend to try to push ideas further than asking the audience to think about them. Conceits, or comparisons made between strange or unlikely things that may seem paradoxical, are commonly used techniques alongside extended metaphors.
Metaphysical fiction has a tendency to be confused with magical realism and supernatural fiction because it does make use of supernatural elements, such as magical realism’s defining characteristic: making the extraordinary ordinary. What sets metaphysical fiction apart from these other genres is the more in-depth, thought-provoking nature of the stories. These stories document the internal thoughts and crises characters deal with in order to wake up the reader from their normal and make them ask themselves these very same questions. Without the thoughtfulness and soul-searching, a magical realism or supernatural fiction piece is just that. Add the next layer to it, and it becomes metaphysical. That being said, virtually any genre can incorporate metaphysical elements. There are imprints of publishing houses and literary magazines that ask for metaphysical literature by name. Usually these are looking for metaphysical literary fiction, meaning fiction falling into the literary fiction genre that is also metaphysical in nature. Be sure to take a look at what an imprint or magazine has published in the past in order to get a better feel for what they’re looking for and whether you fit that bill.
Next up: Mystery/Crime/Detective fiction!